This entry is part 3 of 21 in the series: Revival
- The Biblical idea of revival
- Divine and human agency in revival
- Examples of revival
- Conditions prior to revival
- Experience of God in revival
- Repentance and revival
- Prayer and revival
- The Word of God and revival
- Preaching and revival
- Results of revival
- Physical and emotional phenomena of revival
- The miraculous element in revival (I)
- The miraculous element in revival (II)
- Demonic activity in revival
- Problems associated with revival
- Evaluating Revivals
- Pentecostalism, baptism in the Spirit and revival
- Prospects for Revival
- ‘Lord, I have heard of your fame’ – stories of revival
- ‘Renew them in our day’ – prospects for revival
Moving further into the subject of revival, it may be helpful to provide an overview of revivals as they have occurred in history, from Old Testament until modern times. Reference will therefore be made to some of the most notable awakenings, describing some of their leading features but deferring more detailed analysis until later chapters.
Biblical Examples of Revival
The Old Testament
It is sometimes questioned whether the revivals of the Old Testament were the same in nature and kind as those which have occurred more recently. Errol Hulse, for example, asks whether we know enough about some of these Old Testament episodes to confidently label them as ‘revivals’. We should be careful, says Hulse, to appreciate the unfolding pattern of God’s revelation: ‘As we make our study of revival we need to recognise that biblical theology (progressive revelation) is the predominant principle undergirding our understanding of the history of redemption. It is misguided to think that revival is the key to understanding the Old Testament. Revival is not the key. The key is that God was revealing himself progressively and systematically and what we have now in the Bible is the outcome of that work of progressive revelation.’ (Give Him No Rest, 63.)
But it is not necessary to decide whether a religious movement is either a return to a previous level of spiritual health or a progression towards a more fully-developed state. It is quite possible to accept a both/and interpretation of the Old Testament on this question. A spiritual movement could be partly a restoration of a previous level of spiritual experience and partly a moving onwards and upwards to a new level. Consider a small child who has suffered from ill-health for a long time. The child’s recovery can be seen both as a return to a previously-enjoyed level health and also as a progression towards new milestones of development.
The history of the Jewish people in Old Testament times offers many examples of spiritual revival. For example, the idolatry into which the Israelites fell while Moses was on Mount Sinai was followed by restoration of the people and the building of the tabernacle (Ex 32-36).
The taking of the ark of the covenant by the Philistines for seven months was associated with spiritual failure (1 Sam 4:11, 18, 19-22; 6:1). This was followed eventually by a spiritual awakening when the ark was returned with God’s gracious assistance to its rightful place (1 Sam 4:1-11; 7:1,3,6,10,12).
The northern kingdom lapsed into spiritual decline and idolatry in the days of Ahab and Jezebel (1 Kings 16:30-33). Revival came after Elijah humiliated Baal and his priests (I Kings 18:21-39).
Spiritual decay in the days of Rehoboam and Abijah was followed by renewal under the godly King Asa (2 Chron 17:9,10,12).
Apostasy and idolatry occurred again in the time of Ahaz (2 Chron 28:2-4,16,24,25). Hezekiah was used to bring revival (2 Chron 29:1-4,18,29,30; 30:12,18,19; 31:4,10,20,21). This revival prepared Judah and Hezekiah to stand against Sennacherib of Assyria, whom God humbled before them (2 Chron 32:21; Isa 37:33-38)
Manasseh was another evil king, who led Israel astray. His godly son, Josiah, sought God with his people by repairing the temple and by having the Law read to the people, with memorable results (2 Chron 34:3-33; 35:18).
After the seventy years in Babylon, the nation again failed God as they entered into mixed marriages with the people around them and participated in their sins. Ezra led them to repentance and renewal (Ez 9-10). When Nehemiah had the Word of God read and explained to the people, repentance for sin and forsaking of sin followed. Then there was a turning to God with consequent blessing by God (Neh 8-19; 13).
The Ministry of Christ
Although not often recognised as such, the ministry of Jesus Christ shows many features of revival. Even the activities of the Twelve and the Seventy were accompanied by phenomena which we would associate with revival. (Mt 10:1-8; Mk 6:7-13; Lk 9:1-6; 10:1-20).
The outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost was in once sense unique, but in another sense the first of many such outpourings. From one point of view, Pentecost should be seen as part of the once-for-all redemptive activity of our Lord. It was, after all, the concluding act of the Ascension.
And yet, from another angle, Pentecost can be seen as the first and archetypal revival of the New Era of the Spirit:
‘It was the opening of the river of the water of life which will flow on for ever…It is the issuing forth of the river of the water of life, which will flow on till it cover and fertilize all lands (Ex 47:1).’ (Smeaton, The doctrine of the Holy Spirit, 34)
Consider the powerful effects of Pentecost: the apostles were ‘endued with power from on high’, just as Christ had promised. Those who had been timid and fearful now became bold and fearless. Within a very short space of time the number of converts in Jerusalem alone exceeded 5,000. Then, beginning at Jerusalem, the Christian faith spread out. It was carried to Samaria, to Caesarea, and on to Phoenicia, to Cyprus, and to the great city of Antioch in Syria.
Earnest Baker is one who suggests that we should view Pentecost as the archetypical revival:
‘The revival at Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost is the greatest of all time. In every respect it occupies the first place. No revival was ever so sudden, none so tremendous in its immediate effects, and none so lasting in its result. One hundred and twenty disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ were suddenly baptized in the Holy Spirit. Their characters were wonderfully enriched. New gifts of speech, insight, and argument were conferred upon them. A great accession of zeal, and love, and devotion was added to their motive powers. Within a few hours 3,000 men and women were converted. The Christian Church was constituted. Every day conversions took place; sometimes scores, hundreds, and even thousands, were added to the ranks of the disciples. The work continued for years in Jerusalem itself. It was not the event of a season. It also spread abroad. The revival created missionaries, who went out in all directions. Revivals in other centres followed. Every city of any considerable importance in the Roman Empire felt the influence of the movement during the next few years. This revival made the Apostles, it created the Church, it caused its expansion, it inspired the Epistles, it spread Christianity throughout the whole known earth. The influence of it has reached our own time.’ (The Revivals of the Bible, 137f.)
Edwin Orr makes the same connection between Pentecost and subsequent awakenings:
‘The Apostle Peter insisted that the events of Pentecost, the general outpouring of the Spirit on believers, fulfilled in part the prediction of Joel. History has shown that such happenings have been repeated in the Great Awakenings, not always in every detail but always in the major manifestations of prayer, conviction, repentance and the like.’ (Quoted in Davies, I will pour out my Spirit, 18.)
A remarkable increase in the vitality of believers, and a remarkable increase in the numbers of souls being saved: these two things are the essence of revival, and these two things marked the progress of the Christian church after the Pentecostal outpouring of the Spirit.
Revival in the Early Church
It has been pointed out that the remarkable extension of Christianity during the first century or so of its existence presupposes an evangelistic vigour and success much greater than in most subsequent periods of church history. In other words, we could say that it was by a succession of revivals that the early church made its remarkable progress.
The first centuries of the Christian era were marked, first by vigorous evangelism and bitter persecution, next by theological controversy and consolidation, and then by increasing institutionalisation (especially after the conversion of Constantine).
If, then, revival is apparent in the early Church, then so is spiritual decline. By the second century AD, the apostles were dead, and (for one reason or another) the remarkable gifts of the Holy Spirit which had been so prevalent in the early days of the Church were disappearing. By degrees, the Church was slipping into a rigid formalism.
There are various difficulties in assessing the subject of revival in the early church. First, the evidence is very fragmentary; second, the records that do exist may have been written with concerns other than revival in mind, and therefore we have to ‘read between the lines’ to discover any data about spiritual awakenings; and third, revival movements may have been rejected by the leadership of the mainline church, and we may be only able to read about them through the writings of their opponents. However, it is possible to discern a number of spiritual awakenings which fueled the remarkable expansion of the church in its early years.
One significant reform movement was Montanism. This movement was begun by Montanus, who came from Ardabau in Mysia. He claimed to have had a special revelation from the Holy Spirit, and started a vigorous preaching campaign. The sect gained momentum when Tertullian of Carthage joined its ranks. In some respects the teaching of Montanus and his followers are similar to those of the Irvingites of the last century and the Pentecostalists of our own day. What have in Montanism is what might be called a ‘para-revival movement’: one which manifests some of the features of a spiritual awakening but which degenerates, because of heterodoxy, extremism, or spiritual pride, into the status of a sect.
Revival in the Middle Ages
From about the beginning of the seventh century, papal power was on the increase, and a variety of changes were taking place which make the church of that day startlingly different to that of the first century. These changes included grandiose papal claims, new ideas about the Lord’s Supper (sacerdotalism and transubstantiation), belief in Purgatory, prayers for the dead and prayers to saints, the adoration of Mary, auricular confession, increasingly sumptuous places and styles of worship, and the development of a variety of ideas around the special status of the priesthood. In time, too, a moral depravity settled over the established church which led to all kinds of excesses and intrigues.
It should not be assumed that all was darkness and depravity in the Catholic Church in the Middle Ages. Examples of renewal of the spiritual life and of evangelistic fervour can be found in many individuals and groups emerging from time to time.
Some of these spiritually-minded groups remained unopposed to the Catholic church, but sought at the same time to return to gospel simplicity and purity. Among these were monastic orders such as the Benedictines, Cistercians, Franciscans, and Dominicans. They often did great work in promoting agriculture, education, relief of poverty, and providing care for the sick and needy. Beginning with high ideals, they tended to degenerate once their founder had died and fell into spiritual decadence. Still, the lives of men like Francis of Assisi and Bernard of Clairvaux and a variety of other leaders and Christian mystics show evidence of a spirituality and, at times, an evangelistic fervour, which are strongly suggestive of genuine movements of the Holy Spirit.
In time, other groups emerged which were characterised by opposition to the Catholic Church and its abuses. In about AD650 a Christian group called the Paulicians appeared in the region of the Euphrates. They spread into Armenia, Asia Minor, and Thrace. The Bogomils (a term meaning ‘Friends of God’) flourished in Bulgaria and Bosnia in the tenth century. Later still, various groups of Christians, called ‘Cathari’ (‘The Pure’) and characterised by asceticism and a marked reverence for the Scriptures, spread out from the Balkans. From the end of the twelfth century the Beghards flourished in the Netherlands and along the Rhine. In the twelfth and thirteenth centuries the Albigenses became numerous in southern France.
These groups were not identical in their emphases, nor were they without error or even heresy. But, in their evangelistic zeal and concern for moral purity, some of them at least represented genuine spiritual awakenings.
One group to emerge at this time were the followers of Peter Waldo. This group had its origins in Northern Italy in the 1170s. It was at this time that Waldo, a wealthy merchant, underwent a deep religious experience. He gave away his property and adopted a life of utmost simplicity and poverty. Many men and women were touched by his example and became his followers. The Waldenses were subjected to great persecution, but many of their distinctive beliefs found their way into the mainstream of the Protestant movement.
The Protestant Reformation was a powerful and a complex movement, and one which we cannot begin to do justice to here. But it needs to be said in passing that, being primarily a spiritual movement, it partakes of many of the elements of a revival (or series of revivals). It is a great mistake not to look beyond the very real political, economic, social, and intellectual factors which influenced the Reformation, to see that it was above all else a spiritual revival.
The message which is proclaimed so powerfully and embraced so eagerly in revival – salvation by grace – was the message whose rediscovery formed the backbone of the Reformation:
‘To Martin Luther it was a revolutionary discovery that the righteousness of God is ‘the righteousness by which we are made righteous’…Medieval thinkers, he believed, had led Christendom astray by teaching that human persistence in doing good moral and ritual actions would earn merit in the eyes of God and enable sinners to achieve salvation…Close study of the teaching of Paul…led Luther to the conviction that through faith in Jesus Christ – a faith which is itself God’s gift – a sinner is granted free and full pardon. He is justified by faith, not by his own achievements but because Christ bestows upon him the merits that he (Christ) has won through his victory over sin, death, the law and the devil, the ‘tyrants’ which have held sinful humanity in thrall.’
(R.T. Jones, in New Dictionary of Theology, 565.)
In addition to the major groups of Protestants which formed under the leadership of Luther, Calvin, Zwingli and others, there were others who looked for a still more fundamental return to the simplicity and purity of New Testament Christianity. These were the Radical Reformers. Groups such as the Anabaptists emphasised ‘restoration’ rather than ‘reformation’, and wished to abolish all the accumulated paraphernalia of the Medieval Catholic Church and return to a Church based entirely on New Testament principles.
But such movements were bitterly persecuted, and opposed even by the mainstream of the Reformation. However, during the brief time that they were able to flourish, they showed many of the characteristics of genuine revival movements.
The Post-Reformation Period
Scarcely had the dust of the Reformation settled when another series of renewal movements emerged to consolidate and extend the great work. There were the Puritans in England, the Covenanters in Scotland, the Huguenots in France, and the Calvinists in Switzerland. These all stood substantially for the same things – for taking the Reformation forward and for building on a solid biblical foundation. These post-Reformation movements were characterised by biblical expository preaching, disciplined living, house-to-house catechising, a life a prayer, and submission to the will of God.
J.I. Packer has been at pains to describe Puritanism as a movement of revival, and in doing so elaborates three assertions, namely,
‘that spiritual revival was central to what the Puritans professed to be seeking…that personal revival was the central theme of Puritan devotional literature…[and] the ministry of Puritan pastors under God, brought revival.’
(Among God’s Giants, 44ff.)
As an example of revival under a Puritan minister, Packer cites the well-know case of Richard Baxter, who laboured in the town of Kidderminster, then with a population of about 2,000 adults. Baxter stated:
‘When I came thither first, there was about one Family in a Street that worshipped God and called on His Name, and when I came away there were some Streets where there was not past one Family in the side of a Street that did not so.’
(Quoted in Packer, Among God’s Giants, 54.)
Vigorous Calvinistic movements such as the Puritans continued to flourish into the 17th century. Scotland was still seeing great days of power: in June, 1630, a weekend of communion services was held at Shotts, a parish midway between Glasgow and Edinburgh.
‘By the Sunday evening, such was the sense of the presence of God that many were unwilling to go away, and thus, after a night spent by a number in prayer, a further service was held in the morning…Thirty years after that communion Robert Fleming recalled the results of those four days at the Kirk of Shotts. A “down-pouring of the Spirit”, he says, accompanied the ordinances, “especially that sermon on the Monday, the 21st of June, that it was known, which I can speak on sure ground, near five hundred had at that time a discernible change wrought on them, of whom most proved lively Christians afterward.”‘
(I.H. Murray, The Puritan hope)
In Germany, the Pietist movement emerged in the latter years of the seventeenth century under Spener and Francke. Pietism infused new life into Lutheranism, and promoted personal spirituality rather the institutional religion.
Pietism became a strong spiritual influence, infusing new life into Lutheranism. It promoted an experiential personal religion rather than the institutional religion Lutheranism had largely become.
Cairns, An endless line of spendor, 34.
The movement also promoted prayer, Bible study, small-group fellowship, and had a strong missionary impulse. Although emphasising personal religion, it did not neglect the important place of the intellect. Not only were schools and colleges founded, but the emphasis on biblical scholarship was exemplified by men such as J.A. Bengel.
The ‘Great Awakening’
Another German movement, related to the Pietists, and again strongly evangelistic, was the Moravian denomination. Its founder, Count von Zinzendorf (1700-60) travelled widely, and exerted an enormous influence. Peter Bohler, a Moravian living in London, exercised a profound influence on the conversion of John Wesley.
From the beginning of the century, awakenings were occuring in America. A revival occurred in Taunton, Massachusetts, in 1704:-
My time is spent in daily discourse with the young people visiting me with their doubts, fears and agonies. Religion flourishes to amazement and admiration; that so we should be at once touched with soul-affliction, and this in all corners of the place; and that our late conversions should be attended with more than usual degrees of horror, and Satan permitted to wrestle with them by extraordinary temptations, and assaults, and hours of darkness. But, I hope, the deeper the wound, the more sound may be the cure:…I sometimes think that the time of the pouring out of the Spirit upon all flesh may be at the door. Let us be earnest in prayer that Christ’s kingdom may come.
Samuel Danforth, in Gillies, Historical Collections, 282.
A series of great revivals swept across many parts of the world between the years 1725 and 1760. Collectively, these are referred to as ‘The Great Awakening’ The earliest of these revivals occurred in New Jersey, under the preaching of T.J. Frelinghausen. A Presbyterian pastor named Gilbert Tennent came under the influence of this spiritual movement and himself began preaching with renewed conviction.
A spiritual awakening took place amongst the Moravians on August 13th 1727. Of that day Zinzendorf wrote:-
At the communion that day, which was a true love-feast in fact as well as in name, the Saviour caused a spirit to come upon us of which we had previously known nothing.
in Grossmann, Stewards of God’s grace, 26.
That day proved to be the spark which ignited a mighty blaze:-
The ‘Moravian Pentecost’ (August 13th 1727) swept over communities of Lutheran believers whose roots went back to pre-evangelical underground of pre-reformation times. The resulting missionary movement was astonishing. A prayer meeting continued non-stop in one building for a hundred years (a woodfire was kept burning the whole time to mark the fact). Missionaries (often simple peasants and artisans) specialised in penetrating the most remote and inhospitable places with the gospel. Greenland in 1733 was given a church that has endured to this day. The West Indies first heard the Moravian gospel in 1738, and that work still stands. The Gold Coast of Africa was penetrated and by 1759 its first African had been ordained.
Bridge, Power evangelism and the Word of God, 130f.
By 1734 awakenings were being experienced in several places in New England, including Northampton, Massachusetts, which was the home of the great theologian and preacher Jonathan Edwards. Here is an account of a revival in Northampton, New England, under Edwards:-
The year 1735 opened on Northampton in a most auspicious manner. A deep and solemn interest in the great truths of religion, had become universal in all parts of the town, and among all classes of people. This was the only subject of conversation in every company; and almost the only business of the people appeared to be, to secure their salvation. So extensive was the influence of the Spirit of God, that there was scarcely an individual in the town, either old or young, who was left unconcerned about the great things of the eternal world…And in the midst of this universal attention, the work of conversion was carried on in the most astonishing manner. Every day witnessed its triumphs; and so great was the alteration in the appearance of the town, that in the spring and summer following, it appeared to be full of the presence of God…”The town,” said Mk Edwards, “was never so full of love, nor so full of joy, nor yet so full of distress, as it was then.” Whenever he met the people in the sanctuary, he not only saw the house crowded, but every hearer earnest to receive the truth of God, and often the whole assembly dissolved in tears; some weeping for sorrow, others for joy, and others from compassion.
in Edwards, Works, I, xliii.
With what joy was the Great Awakening welcomed in New England!-
And now,- ‘Behold! the Lord whom we have sought, has suddenly come to his temple.’ The dispensation of grace we are now under, is certainly such as neither we nor our fathers have seen; and in some circumstances so wonderful, that I believe there has not been the like since the extraordinary pouring out of the Spirit immediately after our Lord’s ascension. The apostolical times seem to have returned upon us: such a display has there been of the power and grace of the divine Spirit in the assemblies of his people, and such testimonies has he given to the word of the gospel.
William Cooper, in Edwards, Works, II, 258.
A powerful movement of the Spirit occurred among the early Methodists in London:-
Mon Jan 1, 1739, Mk Hall, Kinchin, Ingham, Whitefield, Hutchins, and my brother Charles were present at our love-feast in Fetter-lane, with about sixty of our brethren. About three in the morning, as we were continuing instant in prayer, the power of God came mightily upon us, insomuch that many cried out for exceeding joy, and many fell to the ground. As soon as we were recovered a little from that awe and amazement at the presence of his Majesty, we broke out with one voice, ‘we praise thee, O God, we acknowledge thee to be the Lord.’
Wesley, Journal, I, 169.
In Wales, awakenings occurred in association with the ministries of men such as Daniel Rowland and Howell Harris. Rowland’s experience of revival in his early ministry was as follows:-
While he was engaged one Sunday morning in reading the church service, his mind was more than usually occupied with the prayers. An overwhelming force came upon his soul as he was praying in those most melting and evangelical words,-“By thine agony and bloody sweat, by thy cross and passion, by thy precious death and burial, by thy glorious resurrection and ascension, and by the coming of the Holy Ghost.”…As he uttered these words, a sudden amazing power seized his whole frame; and no sooner did it seize on him, than it ran instantly, like an electrifying shock, through all the people in the church, so that many of the fell down on the ground they had been standing on in a large mass together, there being no pew in the church.
in Evans, Daniel Rowland, 50f
A slightly later (1743) experience of revival is described by Rowland in a letter to George Whitefield:-
There is a general, fresh, and uncommon stirring in most places. Many come anew under convictions, especially old, worldly professors, and backsliders return. And there is such power as I never felt before given me in preaching and administering the Lord’s Supper. The Lord comes down amongst us in such a manner as words can give no idea of. Though I have, to prevent nature mixing with the work, openly discountenanced all crying out, yet such is the light, view, and power that God gives very many in the Ordinance, that they cannot possibly help crying out, praising and adoring Jesus, being quite swallowed up in God.
in Evans, Daniel Rowland, 74.
A famous revival broke out in Cambuslang and Kilsyth (Scotland) in 1743. One of the leaders was James Robe, to whom another minister wrote:-
I many a time think that such days of power have not been seen under the Gospel, since the apostles’ first preaching the glorious Gospel. O Lord, never let my soul forget what I did see at Kilsyth and Cambuslang of thy glorious power. On Saturday’s night before the sacrament, after the sermon was over, I went to the braehead Eastward, and looked around: the candles were burning in every place; that blessed echo of prayers, and sweet singing of songs made me almost faint for joy, and lament over my dead heart that was so lifeless; and put me in mind of the sweet songs that are sung in heaven at God’s right hand. On Sabbath, at his table, the Lord did manifest himself to me, as he does not to the world: I never did think to see so much of heaven as I was eye and ear witness to that night, on this side of time.
in Gillies, Historical collections, 452.
David Brainerd, frail but saintly son-in-law of Jonathan Edwards, records the beginnings of revival amongst the American Indians in 1745:-
In the afternoon I preached to the Indians…the power of God seemed to descend upon the assembly ‘like a rushing mighty wind’, and with an astonishing energy bore down all before it. I stood amazed at the influence that seized the audience almost universally, and could compare it to nothing more aptly than the irresistible force of almighty torrent or swelling deluge.
in Gillies, Historical collections, 474
A revival occured at Bala, Wales, under Thomas Charles, in 1790:-
There was nothing to be heard from one end of the town to the other but the cries and groans of people in distress of soul. And the very same night, a spirit of deep conviction and serious concern fell upon whole congregations. In the course of the following week we had nothing but prayer meetings, and general concern about eternal things swallowed up all other concerns.
in Orr, The light of the nations, 32.
The ‘Second Great Awakening’
Before the 18th century was finished, another series of awakenings was sweeping across Britain and North America. Collectively, these are referred to as ‘The Second Great Awakening’. J. Edwin Orr has summarised the British phase:-
The revival of religion, the second great awakening, began in Britain in late 1791, cresting in power among the Methodists who seemed unafraid of the phenomenon of mass awakening. It was also effective among the Baptists and the Congregationalists, though manifested in quieter forms. It accelerated the evangelical revival going on among clergy and laity of the Church of England, strengthening the hands of Simeon and his Eclectic Club and those of Wilberforce in his Clapham Sect – an Evangelical party in the Anglican Establishment which soon became dominant in influence.
Orr, Evangelical awakenings in Africa, 2.
The views of C.G. Finney in connection with revival have already been mentioned and criticised. But beyond doubt he remains a major figure in the history of revivals, not only because of his controversial views and methods, but also because he played an important part, especially in his early ministry, in genuine and powerful spiritual awakenings. He was born in Connecticut in 1792. He was destined for a successful career as a lawyer when, at the age of 29, he was converted by private study of the Bible and prayer. He rejected what he saw as the sterile Calvinism of his fellow-Presbyterians, and forged for himself a theology which (as we have seen) placed considerable emphasis (some would say, far too much emphasis) on human ability to repent, believe and obey. But there can be no doubting the genuineness of his own experience, or his power as a revival preacher:-
In 1824, Charles Finney conducted a series of meetings at Evans Mills in Oneida County, New York State. He preached faithfully, but after a score of sermons, there were no decisions. The evangelist told his audience that he would preach to them no longer unless some received Christ as Saviour. Still none responded, so Finney said: “You have rejected Christ and His gospel. You may remember as long as you live that you have publicly committed yourself against the Saviour.”
A packed church heard him preach what was announced to be his last sermon. The evangelist took for granted that the audience was committed against the Lord, and preached accordingly. He asked for no reversal of their decision. During the night, scores tried to contact him, but he was nowhere to be found. A great concern developed among the unconverted, including a number of atheists. Such was the beginning of Finney’s extraordinary ministry, and an unusual power remained with him the rest of his life.
Orr, The light of the nations, 58f.
Mid-Nineteenth Century Revivals
Widespread awakenings occurred in the late 1850s, beginning in the United States. One early feature was a remarkable season of prayer. A man named Jeremiah Lanphier had recently been appointed as a City Missioner in down-town New York. Burdened by the problem of depleted church attendance and other indications of spiritual decline:-
Jeremiah Lanphier decided to invite others to join him in a noon-day prayer-meeting, to be held on Wednesdays once a week…Accordingly at twelve noon, 23rd September, 1857, the door was opened and the faithful Lanphier took his seat to await the response to his invitation…Five minutes went by. No one appeared. The missionary paced the room in a conflict of fear and faith. Ten minutes elapsed. Still no one came. Fifteen minutes passed. Lanphier was yet alone. Twenty minutes; twenty-five; thirty; and then at 12.30 p.m. a step was heard on the stairs, and the first person appeared, then another, and another, until six people were present and the prayer meeting began. On the following Wednesday, October 7th, there were forty intercessors.
…Within six months, ten thousand business men were gathering daily for prayer in New York, and within two years, a million converts were added to the American churches.
Orr, The light of the nations, 103.
There was at this time a powerful movement in Ulster:-
Strong men trembled and faces grew pale. Men could scarcely reach home when the services were ended, through weakness and anxiety, and many as they went were disposed to retire to some solitary place, to pray. Such was the state of feeling produced on a great multitude in a few minutes. This was surely the powerful work of the Holy Spirit as on the day of Pentecost…The work of revival had now come. The attention of the community was quite arrested and the people spoke of little else but the Revival. The business of the world was, to a large extent, laid aside; religion seemed to take its proper place – the first place; the salvation of the soul seemed to be the one things needful; many almost forgot to take their regular food being pale and weak. The great anxiety seemed to be ‘What must I do to be saved?’
in Carson, The Holy Spirit and Revival, 81.
Wales too experienced a mighty revival at this time, under the human instrumentality of Humphrey Jones and David Morgan. This was the greatest of a series of awakenings which occurred in Wales in the earliest part of the 19th century, and which earned the principality the title ‘land of revivals’.
Twentieth Century Revivals
Perhaps the most widespread revival of all, in geographical terms at least, was that which occurred at the beginning of the present century:-
The early twentieth century Evangelical Awakening was a worldwide movement. It did not begin with the phenomenal Welsh Revival of 1904-05. Rather its sources were in the springs of little prayer meetings which seemed to arise spontaneously all over the world, combining into the streams of expectation which became a river of blessing in which the Welsh Revival became the greatest cataract.
Orr, Evangelical awakenings in Eastern Asia, 12.
Concerning the widespread impact of this revival, the same author has stated:-
It was the most extensive Evangelical Awakening of all time, reviving Anglican, Baptist, Congregational, Disciple, Lutheran, Methodist, Presbyterian, and Reformed churches and other evangelical bodies throughout Europe and North America, Australasia and South Africa, and their daughter churches and missionary causes throughout Asia. Africa, and Latin America, winning more than five million folk to an evangelical faith in the two years of greatest impact in each country.
Orr, Evangelical awakenings in Eastern Asia, 12
Places as far afield as Japan and China were touched by the revival fires:-
In 1907, there were local awakenings throughout Japan, including one at Hiroshima among soldiers in camp. One of the most striking evidences of the great work of the Holy Spirit was witnessed in Hokkaido, the northerly Island of Japan. A ‘wonderful revival’ was reported having started in January 1907 in the Tokachi Prison and swept through that institution until nearly every prisoner, as well as officer and guard, had made public confession of faith in Jesus Christ. From there, it was carried to other parts of the island, accompanied by many remarkable healings of bodily sicknesses.
Orr, Evangelical awakenings in Eastern Asia, 24.
The twentieth century Awakening in China, it seems, occurred in three phases: there was a prayer movement between 1900 and 1905; there was a widespread awakening in 1906 and 1907; and there was extraordinary revival throughout 1908 and 1909, continuing until the Revolution in 1911.
Orr, Evangelical awakenings in Eastern Asia, 34.
The great East African revival broke out in Nigeria in 1927:-
In November, 1926, a young African experienced a moving of his spirit at prayer. Jonathan thereafter itinerated here and there and preached with new power. By June of 1927, the revival became widely known…It was wholly indigenous…Meetings were held three times a day, beginning at 6 am and concluding at 10 pm. Confessions of sin on the part of Christians were frequent, reconciliations and restitutions followed, and praise with thanksgiving abounded. Although there was no Pentecostal influence…within hundreds of miles, there was a spontaneous outburst of glossolalia, and there were physical manifestations reminiscent of the Ulster Revival of 1859.
Orr, Evangelical awakenings in Africa, 160.
In 1921 a spiritual movement occurred which affected the fishing towns of Lowestoft and Great Yarmouth, and also a variety of ports on the east coast of Scotland.
Revival struck the island of Lewis in 1949. The name most frequently associated with this awakening is that of Duncan Campbell, who recorded the experience as follows:-
God was beginning to move, the heavens were opening, we were there on our faces before God. Three o’clock in the morning came, and GOD SWEPT IN. About a dozen men and women lay prostrate on the floor, speechless. Something had happened; we knew that the forces of darkness were going to be driven back, and men were going to be delivered. We left the cottage at 3 am to discover men and women seeking God. I walked along a country road, and found three men on their faces, crying to God for mercy. There was a light in every home, no one seemed to think of sleep.
According to Patrick Johnstone, the state of Nagaland in India is unique:-
Revival dramatically changed the moral and spiritual climate in 1976-78. Almost all Nagas are now Christian. There are probably proportionately more born-again believers in this state than any other in the world. The revival is overflowing to other states.
Johnstone, Operation World, 225.
So we conclude our overview of some of the major revival movements with which God has blessed his church. It will be the task of the following chapters to deal in a more analytical way with some of the leading features of these spiritual awakenings.